Sister stories

Over the Thanksgiving holiday (between shopping trips with my sister), I finished two books that—though extremely different in terms of worldview, tone, and plot—feature the love, loyalty, and competition of sisters.

My Sister's KeeperMy Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is the current selection of my church book club. It’s the story of a family surviving from one cancer relapse to the next. The author has done extensive medical research, introducing the reader to the symptoms, treatments, and terminology of a rare form of leukemia. To provide multiple viewpoints on the situation, Picoult rotates the first-person narration among at least 7 characters—including the sick girl’s bone marrow-donating sister, her desperate parents, and the lawyer she hires to sue them for medical emancipation when they insist she donate a kidney. The characterization feels contrived at times. Nearly every character pursues some form of self-destructive behavior—not a stretch, given the pressure they face—but then seems to overcome it with relative ease after a surprising plot twist that one might expect to send them over the final edge. The family’s suffering is tangible, but the story offers no hope. It raises significant bioethical questions, but, with no divine standards to shape the answers, the highest value comes down to personal choice.

A very different book, recommended by my friend Diana Frazier, is Rhoda Huffey’s The Hallelujah Side, a rollicking novel about an imaginative girl coming of age in the 1950s in an Assemblies of God community. The Fish family is affectionate, sincere, generous, even as they stand in judgment of Sinners, whom they identify by their lipstick and Capri pants! (Roxy cannot be sure her sister is “going up,” since she hides her Tangerine Kiss lipgloss in a tree.) The vocabulary is saturated with classic hymns and the King James Bible, second nature to Huffey, whose parents were Pentecostal preachers. The dialogue is downright hysterical. Some of my favorite lines:

Roxy and her father both looked up. “Holy Guacamole” was not exactly swearing, as guacamole was not part of the Godhead, whatever guacamole was, but calling it holy was idol worship.

“Oh!” Zelda Fish gave Colleen the evil eye. “If I hear you’re being Catholic while we’re gone?”

Pecan Street sported sinners’ houses filled with lost souls who did not even bother to go to the wrong church.

“God isn’t afraid of guns,” said Zelda Fish. “He invented them.”

If you have ever been part of a conservative Christian church, you’ll find Huffey’s book self-correcting yet affirming, and very funny.

28. November 2005 by Mindy
Categories: Reviews | 7 comments

Comments (7)

  1. Mindy ~ The Hallelujah Side sounds great! And I am going to try to come to the book club for My Sister’s Keeper, even if I cannot get it read before next week. (Remind me when it’s meeting?)

  2. I just got confirmation that the book club meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 pm at the Calvary manse. Hope you can make it! Bring any suggestions you have–we’ll be selecting our next book.

  3. Another book worth reading on intense family relationships is “Keeping Secrets” by Suzanne Sommers. Yes, Suzanne Sommers, the stereotypical bleached-blonde of “Three’s Company” and thigh-master fame! In this autobiographical account of growing up with an abusive alcoholic father, the chaos and pain of families in crisis was made palpable. I originally read the book years ago after it was given to my by one of the girls in my Young Life Bible study. She wanted me to see what her life was like.

    Just last night a neighborhood friend confirmed the veracity of Ms. Sommers’ account in her own family. The crucial difference for my friend was a Christian neighbor who both gave physical shelter and prayed for my friend’s salvation.

    “Keeping Secrets,” like “My Sister’s Keeper,” does not offer gospel hope, but it does sensitize me to the very real pain of living in a sinful world without the benefit of being a covenant member. The trick is to be shaped and molded so that we see through the superficial façade many (most?) of us put up and reach through with the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. May we each be the kind of neighbor my friend had.

  4. Mindy: I tried to post a comment earlier today, but it apparently did not publish. I am Mike’s mother and Rachel’s mother-in-law! Reading is my hobby…among other things… and I was thrilled to read about your recommendations. I have read three of Jody Picoult’s novels, and I find her an excellent writer. You target some excellent points with reference to our Christian hopes and values versus the themes in her books. I’ve also read “Plain Truth” and “Mercy”. If you haven’t read them, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s so obvious that Picoult researches her subject matter carefully before crafting her story lines. I wish I were closer; I’d join your book club with Rachel. I adore Rachel; the Lord gave Michael a most perfect helpmate…and sometimes our spouses need just that…”help”!!! I say that lovingly, yet seriously, too!
    My blog is “The Angela Adventures”; you can access it from Vox Vendsel.

  5. I thought helping us shape our thighs WAS Suzanne’s contribution; who knew she could also lead us in the way of the Good Samaritan?

  6. Angela: Welcome to my blog! Thanks for the Picoult recommendations. Please feel free to comment on any of my posts. I’ve only just started to get to know Mike and Rachel, but it’s obvious they are kindred spirits. Brandon and I are looking forward to spending more time with them, and we’d love to meet you next time you’re in Philly!